CBO: ObamaCare Means 2.5-Million Fewer Full-time Workers; ABCNews.com Runs with AP's Spin

February 4th, 2014 5:07 PM

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report this morning projecting among other things, that 2.5 million Americans will drop out of full-time work thanks to ObamaCare. We will, of course, track how the broadcast networks cover this story, but if the news websites for ABC, CBS, and NBC are any indication, they will downplay and/or heavily spin this development.

For its part, for example, ABCNews.com teased a February 4 AP story with the headline "Modest Drop in Full-Time Work Seen From Health Law" in their "latest news" sidebar. By contrast, CBSNews.com was front and center with the CBO story, their teaser headline declaring, "New report stokes debate on Obamacare, jobs" [see screen captures below page break]

CBS's Stephanie Condon opened her story by focusing on how the report was a ripe opportunity for Republicans to seize on a fresh bit of negative ObamaCare news in a critical midterm election year:

Given the new incentives offered by the Affordable Care Act, people will choose to work less in the coming years, nonpartisan budget analysts say -- shrinking the workforce by the equivalent of 2 million full-time workers by 2017 and by 2.5 million by 2024.

Republicans, already intent on making the controversial health care law a 2014 campaign issue, seized on the new data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to argue the law is hurting the economy. The White House, however, defended the law, charging the GOP with spinning the facts.

“The middle class is getting squeezed in this economy, and this CBO report confirms that ObamaCare is making it worse,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, called the CBO report “terrible news.”

“Obamacare, the President's signature domestic policy achievement, will lead to more than 2 million fewer jobs and hurt much-needed economic growth,” he said. “A direct threat to the long-term health and prosperity of our nation, this law must be repealed.”

Condon then explained a bit about how ObamaCare's incentives would lead to gaming the system in a way that would decrease full-time participation in the labor market while simultaneously jacking up the taxpayers' share of health care in the form of federal subsidies:

The CBO report notes that the reduction in labor “stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor.”

People will choose to work less because of a variety of new factors to consider. For instance, some will retire early since they will no longer have to rely on their employer for insurance. Others will choose to work less because more work income would make them eligible for less in Obamacare subsidies.

Since these workers will be choosing to work less, the reduction in labor will not register as a rise in “unemployment” figures, which only count workers who are actively looking for work.

By contrast, ABCNews.com editors contented themselves with a brief five-paragraph item from the Associated Press which spun the development positively for the Obama administration:

Congressional budget experts say President Barack Obama's health care law will affect both the supply and the demand for labor, leading to a net reduction of about 2.5 million full-time jobs in 2024, ten years from now.

Tuesday's projection from the Congressional Budget Office is a significant increase from what the same nonpartisan analysts said in 2010, which roughly translated to 650,000 fewer jobs.

But the budget office still says almost all of the impact will come from people choosing not to work, or working less, because they can get health care outside the job.

Although some employers will choose not to hire additional workers, or reduce hours, the budget office said that does not appear to be the main factor.

There are more than 130 million jobs in the economy.

Over at NBCNews.com, reporter Tom Curry opened his item, "Report fuels Obamacare debate with estimates of job loss," by focusing on the CBO's findings, then shifting to reaction from Republicans and closing with the White House attacking the messenger, calling into question the credibility of the CBO's analysis (emphasis mine):

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office gave new fuel to the debate over the Affordable Care Act Tuesday with its estimate that the law will lead to the eventual loss of about 2.5 million full-time jobs.

In its annual budget and economic forecast the agency also said that the ACA or Obamacare will reduce the total number of hours worked by about 1.5 percent to 2 percent from 2017 to 2024.

Even though total employment will increase over the coming decade, the CBO said, “that increase will be smaller than it would have been in the absence of the ACA.”

CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told reporters that the analysis done by his agency’s experts “led us to conclude that the effect of the Affordable Care Act on labor supply would be a good deal larger than we had thought originally.” In 2011, the CBO estimated the loss of full-time equivalent jobs due to the law would be about 800,000.

Elmendorf also told reporters that the employer mandate – the requirement that firms offer health insurance to workers– “will reduce the demand for labor in the short term because employers face this extra cost. It is analogous in some ways to raising the minimum wage.”

The CBO report said that “workers will choose to supply less labor—given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.”

Both sides of the Obamacare debate used the new findings to buttress their arguments, with House Speaker John Boehner saying that Republicans had argued for years that “the president's health care law creates uncertainty for small businesses, hurts take-home pay, and makes it harder to invest in new workers. The middle class is getting squeezed in this economy, and this CBO report confirms that Obamacare is making it worse.”

But Obama spokesman Jay Carney said the CBO analysis was incomplete. The budget office, he said, did not take into account the beneficial effect of slower health care cost growth due to the ACA, “Experts have estimated that slower growth in health costs due to the ACA will cause the economy to add an additional 250,000 to 400,000 jobs per year by the end of the decade,” he said. “Moreover, CBO does not take into account positive impacts on worker productivity due to the ACA's role in improving workers' health, including reduced absenteeism.”